“Is it illegal to count cards?” is a question I frequently hear from younger card players. It doesn’t matter whether that player is into Blackjack, Poker, or any other card game. The concept of card counting keeps popping up.
It happens so much that I’ve decided to tackle card counting in this blog post. But before we get on with the article, let me answer the question, “Is counting cards illegal?” right off the bat:
No it’s not illegal. But casinos frown on it heavily.
What is Card Counting?
Card counting is just that – counting cards, albeit at at high level. It is basically a method of keeping a running count of the cards being dealt and played. You then make the appropriate plays based on the information that you’ve gathered from the process. That is it. Card Counting is not cheating. There are several techniques for card counting, as well as how to not get caught. But that’s a pretty complex topic altogether, and should be discussed in a separate blog post. For now, I’d like to tackle the ethics of card counting.
Is card counting illegal? Heck no. It’s not even and “unfair” advantage. By card counting you are simply playing the best game humanly possible. You’re not using an app, or colluding with other players to win against the casino. At its simplest, card counting is simply playing, and playing well. So why do casinos frown upon this? Let’s cover that in the following section.
Why Do Casinos Frown Upon Card Counting?
You’re probably now wondering: if card counting is not illegal, then why is it now allowed in casinos? For starters, just because something is legal, that doesn’t mean it’s allowable in a private establishment. Take smoking, for example. It’s completely legal. But private businesses can decide to disallow it within their premises. Card counting is like that. There are no rules that say you can’t do card counting. But casinos are within their rights to not allow players to count cards.
I know it does seem strange that a business would disallow something you’re doing inside your head – I mean, what are they, the thought police? I don’t like it, but I do understand it. A casino is a business. And as a business, they make money whenever people lose in gambling tables. Casinos don’t make money when you have fun (although that’s something they could exploit to their advantage). Casinos make money when you lose, period.
And to stay profitable, a casino will try to remove anything that gives players an edge over the house. One of the ways they do this is – you guessed it – banning card counting. A casino can’t sue you or call the cops if you get caught counting cards, since like I mentioned a while ago, this isn’t illegal. But they can escort you out of the premises. Some will even ban you outright from ever playing in their establishment. I’ve met a few players who consider this a weird badge of honor – like they were so good at the game, the casino had no other option but to ban them. I certainly understand the sentiment – I’m also proud of some of my notable bands – but a casino you’re banned from is a casino you can’t earn from. So I try to be careful and not get banned, as much as possible.
Reminder: You Don’t Owe Casinos Anything!
I believe in fairness. Casinos are out to get money from you, and you’re out to get money from them. Viewed in isolation, that scenario is fair and balanced.
But the casino, by virtue of being the establishment you’re playing in, wants to skew the odds in your favor. The casino loves to employ tricks that, while not outright cheating, make it harder for you to win. These tricks include plying you with free drinks, offering you friendship to lure you to a false sense of security, and – you guessed it – banning card counting.
But if the casino is allowed to do some sneaky tricks, why can’t you do card counting? Card counting doesn’t even count as a trick, which can’t be said for the other tactics the casino uses. All you’re doing is playing well.
That’s not balanced at all. And as a person who loves to gamble, that really gets my goat. Because as a gambler, I’ve embraced that luck can swing both ways. I’m not a salty player when I lose. If I have to lose, I want to lose fairly. Heck, I value some of my biggest loses because I came out smarter and more skilled. But when I lose because a casino doesn’t allow card counting, I’m deprived of being able to bring my a-game. And when I lose, I can’t learn from it. So I decided that to be the best Blackjack player could be, I had to play against this draconian rule.
Don’t Let that Stop You!
Card counting is a cat and mouse scenario. Casinos try to clamp down on it, but players will just find new and better ways to disguise their card counting efforts. It’s an arms race that I think has had a net positive on the scene. Because of the challenges, players have gotten better at counting cards.
Just because you can get busted by casinos, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t count cards. Card counting is a vital skill of gambling. You wouldn’t play billiards with only one hand because the poolhall owner prefers it, right? So why hamper yourself. It’s not cheating. And I doubt your winnings will be enough to bankrupt the house (wouldn’t that be nice, though!).
So embrace card counting as a way to become a better Blackjack player. You’ll encounter a few screw-ups, and you might even get busted a few times, but this is all part of the journey towards becoming an elite-level Blackjack player!
But before you start card counting in casinos, I need to give a disclaimer: when you count cards, you do so at your own risk.